ASU Football Opponent First Look: Washington State Cougars

William Mancebo

An initial look at ASU's next opponent, the trainwreck that is Washington State

Being in the midst of a four-game losing streak is pretty terrible. It can dash division title dreams (check), demoralize a fanbase (check), and ignite a possible quarterback controversy (check). But not matter how bad things get for the Arizona State Sun Devils, they can rest safely knowing one thing.

At least they're not Washington State. Oh, the poor Cougars.

The hope and hype brought on by the hiring of Mike Leach has devolved into outright disaster, both on and off the field. The Cougars have been one of the nation's worst teams in reeling off seven straight losses, but the recent explosive allegations of abuse and intimidation by now former star wide receiver Marquess Wilson could be the start of something very, very ugly.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that this is a great time for them to come to Tempe.

Washington State's Season to Date: The new Mike Leach era started off with a thud, as Wazzu lost 30-6 to BYU on opening night. They rebounded, somewhat, to beat both Eastern Washington and UNLV, but by just one score each. Then, it all began to fall apart. The Cougars gave Colorado their only win of the year, and have followed that demoralizing loss with six more, dropping WSU to 2-8 on the year, and their 0-7 conference mark leaves them as the only Pac-12 team still looking for a conference win.

Washington State's Last Game: Hosting No. 18 UCLA, it appeared that the Cougars were on their way to another staggering defeat. Thanks to four blocked kicks, a defensive touchdown and a safety, UCLA had a 37-7 halftime lead. But WSU fought on, and scored three touchdowns in the game's final 16 minutes to come within a recovered onside kick of making it interesting. Instead, the Bruins snagged the onside ball, and escaped with a 44-36 win.

Washington State's Statistical Leaders:

Washington State's National Ranks (Among 124 FBS Teams):

  • Rushing Offense: 124th (32.9 ypg)
  • Passing Offense: 6th (337.5 ypg)
  • Scoring Offense: 103rd (20.7 ppg)
  • Rushing Defense: 67th (162.4 ypg)
  • Passing Defense: 102nd (265.7)
  • Scoring Defense: 95th (33.0 ppg)

Washington State on Offense:

With the Mike Leach offense, you know what you're going to face: Pass, pass, pass, maaaaybe a thought about running, then nah, another pass. No team has run fewer times (209) for less yards (32.9 per-game) than Washington State.

The Cougars will attack a defense with their Air Raid scheme, and have had injury and turnover issues at quarterback. Starter Jeff Tuel has battled injuries throughout the year, including getting knocked out of the game last Saturday. Connor Halliday has not had the type of success he had last year against ASU, and has tossed 12 interceptions on the year. It appears as if Tuel may be well enough to start, and when healthy is a talented, prototypical passer.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, they will be without WSU's best overall talent, as wide receiver Marquess Wilson has quit the team. His loss is devastating, and the team will spread the ball around more than they already do. The Cougars already have five other plays outside of Wilson who have more than 20 catches, and have a very young receiving corps with three freshman and a sophomore among their starters. Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone are the most targeted receivers, and each primarily handle shorter routes, while Bobby Ratliff has been effective downfield with his size (6-foot-2) and speed.

In the very rare even that the team runs, Teondray Caldwell and Carl Winston handle the load. Caldwell, a freshman, is the more speedy of the two, while the senior Winston is a more powerful runner, and both have a bit of receiving ability.

One of the major issues for Washington State's sputtering offensive is along the offensive line. The Cougars rank dead last—124th—among the FBS teams by giving up 4.6 sacks per game, which is all the more troubling given that pass protection is really the only thing they are asked to do.

Washington State on Defense:

Like many teams around the nation, Washington State has installed a new 3-4 scheme this year in the hopes of better utilizing their athleticism. In some areas it has worked, while in others, it's very much a work in progress.

One aspect in which the team has improved greatly is attacking offenses. Last season, the Cougars were near the bottom of the nation in sacks (94th) and tackles-for-loss, but this year they have been very good, ranking 17th in sacks and 11th in TFL.

One of the main reasons has been the great play of "Buck" Travis Long, who plays a hybrid position similar to that of ASU's Devilbacker Carl Bradford. He has 9.5 sacks and 13 TFL on the season. Middle linebacker Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen on the strong side are both rangy and athletic and can make plays against both the run and pass.

Up front, the three-man front has a pair of freshman at the ends flanked junior tackle Ioane Gauta. The 305-pound Gauta moves pretty well and has 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and Xavier Cooper has been disruptive from his end spot, with seven tackles-for-loss.

Despite having a very experienced secondary and an effective pass rush, the Cougars have one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. Strong safety Deone Bucannon is the top player along the backline, and he leads the team in both tackles and interceptions. The 190-pounder is a big time hitter and covers a lot of ground. Washington State is looking to find consistency at cornerback, where Daniel Simmons and Anthony Carpenter has struggled.

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